July 4th or Independence Day is a federal holiday commemorating the independence secured from Great Britain on July 4th 1776, celebrated annually with fireworks, parades, family events and such like. But for one person the festival of goodwill was clearly of no concern, as he raised his 9mm Luger to the open passenger side window of Darlene Ferrin's brown Corvair and without uttering a word unleashed a volley of gunshots into both victims. The perpetrator then retreated back to his vehicle, however realizing that at least one of his victims may still be alive he returned and fired of a further four rounds at the young defenseless couple. In a little over forty minutes the relatively quiet neighboring towns of Vallejo and Benicia were about to receive a rude awakening as the Zodiac Killer made contact for the first time and it was a phone call that police dispatcher Nancy Slover was never likely to forget.
This was a life changing event for Michael Mageau, as was the phone call to police dispatcher Nancy Slover, and she resolutely claimed right up to her death that the voice she heard over the phone that night is something she was never likely to forget. Some of Michael Mageau's memories of the night have differed over intervening years, but it is proposed here, that if he said two days after the attack that all the shots were muffled, then they most probably were. God knows he would remember, as you would if a unsuppressed 9mm Luger had been unleashed just a matter of inches from your right ear. As your ear enters into trauma after the first shot it must make the subsequent shots audibly different from the original, however Michael Mageau never alludes to any distinction, simply stating 'all the shots were muffled'.
George Bryant resided in a caretakers house near the Blue Rock Springs parking lot, in fact he heard the events unfold that night from approximately 800 feet away describing this sequence of noises. He stated that he heard 'one gunshot', then a moment later 'another gunshot', then after a further gap the sound of 'rapid gunfire'. This account however does not concur with the chain of events that Michael Mageau described, He recalls how 'a white man drove up in a car, got out and walked up to their car, shined a flashlight inside and started shooting', he then left for a brief time, then returned and shot at them several more times. It has been suggested that Michael Mageau was under unfathomable stress that night and may have been understandably confused about the exact sequence of events that transpired, whereas from the relative calm of his house 800 feet away, George Bryant was able to give a much more reasoned account. He was also able to discern the difference between firecrackers being let off that night and the sound of gunfire, which was much louder. But could he.
The Zodiac Killer claimed to use a pencil flashlight to aid his aim, at the Lake Herman Road double murder of David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen on December 20th 1968, so appeared adept at modifying his weapon to suit his purpose. He also gave us a detailed description of his bomb making plans in the Bus Bomb Letter on November 9th 1969 and My Name is...Cipher on April 20th 1970, so it is actually no great leap of faith to believe that he was able to create a fully functioning homemade suppressor attachment for his gun also, or indeed own the real thing.
It has been widely believed that the Zodiac murders were actually secondary to his letter writing, in other words he actually drew far more pleasure from his boasting about the crimes and formulating his cryptic puzzles than the actual crimes themselves.
Therefore, as he was in the infancy of his plague of terror, why would he jeopardize all this by blasting off countless loud, high velocity rounds at the crack of midnight drawing unwanted attention to himself and placing his masterplan in clear and present danger. It seems foolhardy at best. The same can be said of his first attack at Lake Herman Road on December 20th 1968.
Lake Herman Road traveled through undulating hills and trees as it meandered from Benicia to Vallejo in virtual total darkness. On the night in question it was also extremely cold, just 22 degrees Fahrenheit and the ground was frozen solid.
James Owen, who passed by the scene, mentioned no gunshots in his first statement to police on 21st December 1968, however three days later he stated 'that he thought he heard a shot' approximately a quarter of a mile after he passed the turnout. On a quiet country road at approximately 11.15 pm at night, are we to believe the killer only waited 30 seconds after James Owen had passed before firing off numerous rounds from a .22 caliber weapon. But Owen supposedly only heard one. After James Owen passed the turnout are we to conclude the Zodiac Killer only shot David Faraday (the shot James Owen heard), then waited a certain length of time until James Owen was out of earshot, then murdered Betty Lou Jensen. The sequence of events makes little sense from either perspective and in all probability James Owen heard nothing.
The Zodiac Killer himself claimed the murder two days later, in a letter mailed to the San Francisco Chronicle stating 'I am the murderer of the taxi driver over by Washington St + Maple St last night'.
However no witnesses stated hearing gunshots at this location either. No gunshots heard in a built up area at close to
10.00 pm at night, why was this. This crime had all the hallmarks of pre-planning, even removing a section of Paul Stine's shirt which he mailed along with the letter. But despite being a far more populated area, in which he was seemed determined to secure a trophy, he would take a risk anyway and loiter around the scene. Again, imagine you were the perpetrator. Would you fire a loaded unsilenced weapon within feet of a house, then proceed to start rummaging through the victims pockets, wipe down the inside of the cab, then exit the vehicle and proceed to the exterior doors and start wiping them down, before moving off casually or get the hell out of there. The answer is, loiter around if you had used a silencer and believed no witnesses had observed you and called the police. Which is exactly what the Zodiac Killer did. See http://www.zodiacciphers.com/zodiac-news/presidio-heights-revisited.
Finally we move onto Lake Berryessa and the brutal stabbing of Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shepard on September 27th 1969.
Bryan Hartnell observed the Zodiac Killer's gun up close and there was no suggestion of a silencer. But it does not mean he was not carrying one, although on this occasion his knife was the perfect silencer.
The Zodiac Killer first presented his gun without a silencer and although the ordeal was undoubtedly terrifying, there may have been little reason to suspect anything other than robbery as a motive at this point. The time was approximately 6.15 pm in the evening and it was still light. There were other people in the vicinity, albeit limited, and the thought that the assailant would start firing away with restricted exit points seemed, lets say, not the ideal choice. However, if the assailant had produced a silenced weapon, greater intent may have been inferred. But in the end, the revelation of a knife was from the perspective of the Zodiac Killer the perfect choice, trying to give the impression this was nothing more than daylight robbery before his true deadly intentions were finally revealed.
Of course the Zodiac Killer may not have used a silencer in any of the crimes, but there is one question you have to ask yourself. If you were the Zodiac Killer hell bent on creating a legacy of evil, and bearing in mind at least three of the locations, would you have used a silencer.
Top Photograph by: Winter Tree and Dark Night Sky Fireworks like Supernova by epSos.de